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The Pittsfield Gazette sponsored five half-hour debates at Berkshire Community College on Tuesday night. Above, Helen Moon and Kenneth Warren Jr. were the first debate.
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Chris Connell and candidate Michael Merriam take questions in the second debate.

Pittsfield Wards One & Four Candidates Debate

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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Kenneth Warren Jr. is challenging Helen Moon for the Ward 1 seat. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City Council candidates for Wards 1 and 4 debated ward issues and made their final arguments to voters before next week's election.
 
All ward candidates running for contested seats participated in half-hour debates hosted by the Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television in Berkshire Community College's K-111 on Tuesday night. The candidates vying for Ward 1 and Ward 4 seats took up the first hour of the night; the debates for Wards 5, 6 and 7 will be covered in a separate article. 
 
The Ward 1 candidates are incumbent Helen Moon and former councilor Kenneth Warren Jr. Both gave brief opening statements before addressing questions read by moderator Jim Arpante.
 
Moon said she approaches her work on the council as she has done as a registered nurse. She said she tries to look at the big picture while addressing the details and the problems.
 
"I think that is the best way to advocate for my patients and I think that is the best way to work on behalf of my constituents," she said. "I am trying to plan for a Pittsfield for tomorrow ... and I have a proven track record of addressing ward concerns."
 
Warren spent the bulk of his opening statement addressing East Acres Road, which he said should have been repaired years ago. He said the company that was supposed to do the work was telling the city what to do.
 
"I am independent with no political agenda," he said. "I am an active problem solver with experience in leadership and skills that I think are necessary to make Ward 1 better."
 
The first question was about the Tyler Street fire station, a historic building that currently sits in disrepair. Warren said the city should solicit bids for the building and added that he heard there was some interest in the property.
 
Moon said the city has put the building out to bid in the past and there were no responses. She added that there is a process the city must follow and they simply cannot just give the building away. In general, she said, there is a lot of blight the city and cleaning it up will reduce crime.
 
Warren quickly chimed in and said he did not think the Beacon Cinema went through the proper process, referring to the city's waiving of $2.55 million loans to the project that allowed it to be sold and continue operations.
 
The candidates were asked if they supported a pickleball court in Spring Park and Moon said she did vote against this but only because of the overwhelming lack of support from her ward.
 
Warren agreed and said he, too, would support the ward's wants and needs.
 
Taxes were next and Warren said as a councilor he will look to make the budget more efficient and keep the tax rate level.
 
"We have an older population in Ward 1 and there are a lot of people who have lived in their houses for years and years," Warren said. "I ran into a woman who was 90 threatening not to vote at all because she said could not live in her house anymore and all the city was doing was raising taxes." 
 
Moon responded that she did not want to make promises that she may not be able to keep and said although she would want to lower taxes, costs increase every year. She advocated for smarter, more transparent budgeting.
 
"We have to meet those demands while providing residents with the services they expect from their government and I believe it is not a wise thing to say we are going to reduce taxes because it is a pie-in-the-sky goal," she said. "We have to be wise, accountable, and strategic in our investments so we are preparing for a future not just what is happening right now."
 
Both candidates thought something needed to be done on the police headquarters and thought access, safety and parking improvements needed to be made. They also both agreed that the city needs an influx of state money to address education needs. Warren added that he thought the school district needed to look toward consolidation.
 
The candidates were asked about how or if they would get more value out of tax-exempt properties and they agreed that this really was not a council matter. Moon said she did think there were ways through payment-in-lieu-of-taxes programs to see if large nonprofits that do make money can contribute more to the city.
 
In closing statements, Warren said Moon has campaigned for the district attorney and is currently employed by the district attorney's office (Moon is director of special projects). He said this makes her a very formidable opponent and considered himself an underdog but who will truly work for Ward 1. 
 
"That is hugely influential and that is not a bad thing but that explains why my opponent has endorsements and support from across the state," he said. "I have no political agenda and I am not indebted to nor do I have to answer to any powerful local political organization or any state groups for that matter." 
 
Moon said she was not beholden to anyone but the voters and noted Warren has said in the past that he would prefer to bypass subcommittees and other larger city issues and put all his efforts toward Ward 1. Moon said she thought a councilor cannot truly serve their ward without being involved in larger city issues 
 
"I serve them to the extent that they allow me to advocate and provide critical care for the community that I love," she said. "My ability to collaborate with all my constituents goes hand in hand with my capacity to make change for the better. I have done this work and I will continue to do this work for the residents of Ward 1."
 

Michael Merriam, left, is challenging Chris Connell for the Ward 4 seat.
The Ward 4 candidates are incumbent Chris Connell and candidate Michael Merriam.
 
Merriam went through his resume and said he wanted to be a positive respectful voice for Pittsfield.
 
"I am passionate about Pittsfield and I want to be part of the team that will bring Pittsfield forward in a respectful manner," he said. "It is my belief that divisive politics hurt everyone and help no one."
 
Connell said his family has deep roots in Ward 4 in both living and owning businesses in that district.
 
"My family has lived in Ward 4 for 40 years ... I am very rooted in Ward 4. If you were to cut me on the finger I would bleed Ward 4," he said. "Eight years ago, when I was sworn in for my first term, I vowed to give exceptional constituent service as well as help the city move forward by relying on my extensive business background."
 
Both candidates agreed that political signs should not be placed on public property and both agreed the police station needed to be replaced. Merriam said he wanted to go after state and federal grants needed to help improve the situation.
 
Connell said he thought the city should look at existing buildings for the new station and thought the current police station would be a good place for the office space that the city currently leases.
 
He also supported using the General Electric Economic Development Fund to attract business, but only ones that benefited the city. He said was supportive of the Berkshire Innovation Center and, in the past, was supportive using funds to bring in a rail-car manufacturing business.
 
Merriam was also in support of attracting the right businesses but would like to see a portion of the money go to smaller businesses.
 
"I would target small businesses who need support whether it be helping them expand their current location, helping them find another location, or to help them grow and succeed," he said. "That is what the fund was designed for and that is what the money should be used for and doing so you can create jobs in the community." 
 
Connell added that there already is a small-business fund and said he supported using these funds but only for businesses that benefit the community. 
 
Holmes Road came up and both candidates thought police needed to increase enforcement in the area to slow down traffic and keep heavier vehicles off the road. The roadway is a favorite shortcut from the downtown area to the Pittsfield/Lenox Road. Connell cited his experience on the Traffic Commission and said the city is working on implementing traffic calming measures throughout Pittsfield.
 
One point of disagreement was the consolidation of schools. Connell said he supported consolidation among county schools but noted the transition would mean a lot of logistical challenges. The Berkshire County Education Task Force has recommended a countywide school district that may inevitably mean school closures. 
 
Merriam said he did not think the consolidation was feasible with such large distances between schools. He said he would not vote for such a large-scale consolidation.
 
When it came to the use of the local marijuana tax, Merriam said he thought a chunk of the funds should go toward post-employment benefits.
 
Connell doubled down on his previous comments and said 50 percent of the fund should go toward roads and infrastructure. He said the city borrows on average $2.5 million a year to address roads.
 
"We borrow on a time frame longer than what the streets last for ... we are digging ourselves into a deeper hole," he said. "I felt some of this revenue should be used not only to get more roads done but to cut our borrowing and reduce our principle and long-term interest on a yearly basis." 
 
In his closing statement, Connell said he has the time to continue to serve the city and that his record speaks for itself. He added that Merriam can only offer promises while Connell's record proves he can find solutions.
 
"My votes on the council in the last eight years prove that I have worked tirelessly on solutions for the city and supporting our most vital departments," he said. "I work full-time for the ward and the city on finding solutions. My opponent can't do that full time."
 
Merriam said he may have a full-time job but does not rely on city health insurance. He added that he thought his heart was more in the job than Connell’s was.
 
"My opponent was at a campaign rally for one of the mayoral candidates and she said in introducing him that 'I wanted to thank Chris for running because I had to literally drag and beg him to run again,'" he said. "I will say this. No one had to drag and beg me to run and I want to be part of the solution to help move Pittsfield forward." 
 
Ward 5, 6, and 7 candidates also participated in Tuesday night's debate that wrapped up around 8:30. Coverage will be forthcoming. There are no races in Wards 2 and 3.
 
The city election is Tuesday, Nov. 5, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Tags: city election,   debate,   election 2019,   ward 1,   ward 4,   


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PHS to Determine Reopening This Weekend

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With cleanup ongoing, administrators will decide this weekend if Pittsfield High School will open Monday after a water line break.
 
Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said families will receive a call Sunday letting them know whether or not school will reconvene Monday.
 
"We are optimistic," McCandless said Friday.
 
The school was dismissed early Thursday after a pipe burst causing water damage in the building.
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